This Week in L.A. History: Barbie Is Born


Photograph courtesy of

Full name: Barbara Millicent Roberts
March 9, 1959
: Los Angeles
: 7.25 ounces
: 11.5 inches

Los Angeles-based toy company Mattel unveils adult-figured fashion doll at the American International Toy Fair in New York City on March 9, 1959.

Inspired by the German fashion doll Bild Lili, Mattel co-founder Ruth Handler convinced the executives of her L.A.-based toy company to manufacture an American Bild Lili doll. Barbie, named after Ruth’s daughter Barbara, went on to become the best selling doll in the world.

Since her conception, Barbie has enjoyed a lifetime of careers, luxury cars, vacation homes—and of course—designer clothes. But it was just two years after Barbie’s world debut that Mattel introduced her ultimate companion, Ken, named after Mrs. Handler’s son. As the story goes, Barbie and Ken met on the set of a TV commercial. In 2010 Mattel announced that Barbie and her beau of 43 years were splitting up. According to the press release, the couple “needed some time alone” but would “remain friends.”

Because of Mrs. Handler’s vision, there were never any marketing limits on what Barbie could be. In her 54 years, Barbie has held over 125 careers, including model, astronaut, surgeon, pilot, and NASCAR driver. By the mid 60s—on the heels of the women’s liberation movement—Barbie, with her accentuated breasts, small waist, and long legs, was also a symbol for the unattainable physical standards put on women.

Despite backlash over the decades, Barbie has managed to maintain extremely successful. The popular doll and her closet full of designer outfits have sold in more than 140 countries. The Barbie brand has seen more diversity over the years and has made its way into clothes, games, and movies.


Related Content

  • Kathy O’Brien

    If she was born Mar. 1959 and this article was written Mar 2013 how is that 64 years?! Get your math straight. I thought her 60th was coming up, reason for checking out this site. But she only had her 50th a few years ago, as I have those dolls.

  • Melissa

    I can’t believe Barbie is 54 years. She still looks great. I wonder what her secret is. She continues to lead the way in fashion.